Nothing is as Swedish as North Dakota
(Translation of a story in Blekinge läns tidning)
Genealogy took us to a municipality far away on the American prairie, where “palt” is a wellknown dish and a potluck dinner can be organized in no time.
The summer of 2018.
We have been driving for several days, just over 1200 kilometers (like Karlskrona-Skellefteå in Sweden). In the last hour we have spotted five farms along the road. It’s like driving in Norrland, but without the forest. North Dakota is typical farmland and there is a free view all the way to the horizon.
Suddenly we see a small community next to the road. We are hesitant about where to turn – and that moment of hesitation takes us all the way through. We have to turn around and drive into one of the streets.
On the lawn outside one of the houses we see some people waving to us. We have arrived in Kulm, a small part of Västerbotten right in the middle of the USA.
This story begins with an old weekly magazine that we found 25 years ago and started browsing. A Swedish journalist traveling in the US had accidentally (as it seems) ended up in Kulm. Here he interviewed some of the many Swedish descendants in the neighborhood.
But hey, the names seemed familiar. Ostrom, Lindgren – this looked like group of related families from Ytteråträsk in Västerbotten, Sweden that we knew about. But they had emigrated in the late 1800s…
My girlfriend had previously researched her family tree – this was long before Swedish church records were available online, and the work had been done using microfiche and such.
A check in her notes quickly showed that there could be no doubt! We had accidentally stumbled across her lost relatives in America.
When in 2018, two decades after this revelation, we were finally on our way to the United States in a completely different matter, we got a crazy idea: why don’t we go to Kulm. At least just to see what the place looks like!
It was now magical things started to happen. When in May we contacted a Kulm descendant we had managed to identify, (Sharon Linden and her husband Carl), they replied via the net from – Ytteråträsk! This American couple were on a family trip to Sweden, while we were on our way to the USA.
Carl, though not directly related to my girlfriend, is a passionate “contact creator” with a large Swedish-American network – and routine in organizing family trips and ensuring that contacts are created and maintained. He arranged an itinerary that made our journey so much more rewarding than if we had just walked around in the small town and then returned.
Those people who waved were of course our first stop. Cheryl Gackle took us around the center of the town and gave us a first introduction. As we found out typically she was friendly, interested and committed.
To say that we were well received is a great understatement. In just a few days we experienced a rodeo, attended a banquet for returning former Kulm-pupils, singing along with the Baptist congregation during Sunday’s service, meeting 98-year-old Rose Lindgren (who of course greeted us in the Swedish dialect of her ancestors), joined a family party at Marvel and Harvey Lindgren’s farm – where we also got to stay for some unforgettable days. Plus a lot of other things!
Harvey Lindgren is a farmer and his wife Marvel teacher (it turned out to be a common combination, education is taken seriously in Kulm).
Despite the fact that Harvey and I are not related, (and the fact that we are almost the same age) he reminded me so much about my father that I had to pinch my arm. Like my dad, his first car was a Volvo Duett, in his youth he was engaged in writing, he was also a skilled storyteller. Since it was almost exactly ten years since my father passed away, you can imagine what a strange experience this was.
After that family party we gathered a small group of people in the farm kitchen telling each other about life in the country, here and there. We talked about Västerbotten palt and its southern Swedish equivalent “kroppkaka”, we also talked about the hard life as a farmer, funny episodes and everyday drama. Time stood still for a little while.
When the visit came to an end, we hit the road again, driving 1200 kilometers back to one of the world’s largest airports, O’Hare in Chicago. The adventure was over, but the magic of that little town in North Dakota lives in our memories.